Licensed Acupuncturist

The word “balance” gets used a lot in today’s culture, but it has been an essential concept in Eastern healing practices for centuries. When people hear the word “balance,” they may think of phrases associated with health such as work-life balance, a balanced diet, or balancing postures in yoga class. These phrases related to healthy living are not just colloquial; they can be positive reminders to take care of oneself, and they reflect the modern trend of pursuing alternative therapies to balance the stressors of everyday living.

A recent study published by the National Institute for Health (NIH) revealed that Americans spend $30 billion out-of-pocket annually on complementary health practices such as acupuncture, yoga, and chiropractic care. Acupuncture is an Eastern healing modality that is experiencing a surge in popularity as Americans continue seeking out alternative complements to Western medicine.

Acupuncturists help patients manage pain or to rebalance their “qi” or energy flow by inserting very thin needles to stimulate healing. Using ancient Chinese medicinal concepts of energy meridians, acupuncturists are trained to know precisely where to insert needles at specific points of the human body in order to heal specific ailments. The application of electrical stimulation, movement, pressure, or heat may also be used.

Acupuncturists are physicians with certifications in Oriental medicine or licensed practitioners of Oriental medicine. In the United States, 45 states and the District of Columbia require acupuncturists to pass a licensure examination or hold certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

Statistics from Career One Stop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, show that opportunities in acupuncture are projected to grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, a rate which is faster than the national average. According to that data, 3,400 new job openings in acupuncture will need to be filled during that decade nationally (Career One Stop 2018).

Acupuncturist Specializations & Degree Types

To become an acupuncturist in the United States, the first step is to earn a degree from an educational institution approved by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Most acupuncture programs require either two years of college-level courses or a bachelor’s degree as prerequisites for admission. Depending on the program, students may or may not need an educational background in science to be considered for admission.

Most acupuncturists have master’s or doctoral degrees in acupuncture, but some practice with medical degrees as physicians. Examples of acupuncture degree titles are:

  • Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MAOM)
  • Master of Traditional Oriental Medicine (MTOM)
  • Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM)

Those who earn state-level NCCAOM certification or a passing score on the NCCAOM certification exams are eligible to earn the following board-certified titles in Eastern medicine:

  • Diplomate of Acupuncture
  • Diplomate of Chinese Herbology
  • Diplomate of Asian Bodywork Therapy
  • Diplomate of Oriental Medicine

Admissions Requirements for Acupuncturist Programs

Each acupuncture educational institution has its own unique requirements for admission. Here is a list typical tasks and types of documentation required of prospective applicants to acupuncture programs:

  • Application fee
  • Campus tour
  • Completed application
  • Interview with an admissions specialist
  • Official bachelor’s degree transcript (for master’s degree programs) from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university
  • Physical health exam form
  • Proof of current vaccinations (e.g., hepatitis B, MMR, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, etc.)
  • For non-native speakers of English: proof of academic English language competency through official scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • For coursework earned outside of the United States: official transcripts must be evaluated and translated into English

Acupuncturist Program Accreditation

In order to validate the quality of an educational program, accreditation is highly sought after by educational institutions. Accreditation is a metric of excellence that proves to employers and patients that students, faculty, and staff earning and conferring degrees from a specific program are held to high standards of academic quality. Accreditation can be programmatic, regional, or national. Recognized accrediting agencies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Educational programs in acupuncture are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). ACAOM has set forth a set of comprehensive standards and criteria for accreditation which schools must meet in order to earn distinguished accreditation for their master’s or doctoral programs in acupuncture and Eastern medicine.

On-Campus Acupuncturist Degree Programs

Acupuncture and Massage College

The Acupuncture and Massage College in Miami, Florida offers a bachelor of arts in health sciences and a master of Oriental medicine degree. The school aims to give students an introduction to acupuncture and Oriental medicine and experience working in clinical settings as acupuncturists. Coursework in this program prepares students to sit for the NCCAOM exam.

In addition to academic programs, the college offers a community clinic that shares the holistic benefits of Eastern medicine and provides a clinical environment to prepare acupuncture students through supervised clinical treatment. The master’s program can be completed in three years and is ideal for students desiring to become licensed acupuncture physicians.

  • Location: Miami, FL
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) and Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $278.15 per credit

American Academy of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine

The American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) in Roseville, Minnesota is committed to a balanced approach to traditional and contemporary medicine. Blending the theoretical foundations and clinical applications of traditional Chinese medicine, the program features courses in acupuncture, herbal medicine, dietary therapy, movement practices such as T’ai Chi and Qigong, and scientific concepts in biomedicine.

Offering two master’s degree programs, one doctoral program, and a certificate program in Tui Na massage therapy, the AAAOM is also committed to offering high-quality professional development seminars for acupuncture professionals. The 41-credit, 660-hour certificate program in Tui Na massage therapy serves as an optional add-on for acupuncturists or a stand-alone training program for massage therapists. The curriculum standards for this program allow students to take the Asian bodywork therapy diplomate exam through NCCAOM.

  • Location: Roseville, MN
  • Duration: Three to eight years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $325 per credit

Online or Hybrid Acupuncturist Degree Programs

Although there are no fully online degree programs for master’s or doctoral degree programs in acupuncture, there are educational programs that offer hybrid formats through a blend of on-campus and online coursework. Read on to learn more about hybrid programs in acupuncture.

American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine

The American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine in Houston, Texas offers four unique programs: a doctorate of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, a master’s degree in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, a dual degree master’s, a doctoral program in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and a graduate certificate in Chinese herbology.

Some courses are offered online and many didactic classes in the dual degree program are offered on nights and weekends. Students applying to the master’s programs must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited educational institution and completed basic science coursework in biology and chemistry.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SAOCSCC)
  • Tuition: $432 per credit

Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts

The Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medical Arts offers four degree programs in acupuncture: a dual degree master’s and doctoral program in acupuncture, Chinese, and Oriental medicine; a master’s of acupuncture and Oriental medicine; a doctoral degree of acupuncture and Chinese medicine; and a certificate in Chinese herbal medicine.

Some of the courses in the dual degree program are offered in a hybrid format, meaning that on-campus classroom instruction is combined with online interactive activities and resources to apply the concepts learned in face-to-face classes. Students in these courses are expected to have basic internet literacy skills including basic file management and how to use email, word processing, and learning management systems. Hybrid courses may meet synchronously at predetermined times of the week, or work may be requested to be submitted asynchronously by a specific deadline.

  • Location: Asheville, NC
  • Duration: 200 hours to six years
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)
  • Tuition: $18,500 per year

How Long Does it Take to Become an Acupuncturist?

Typically, master’s and doctoral degree programs in acupuncture take three to five years to complete. Additional time after graduation from an acupuncturist program may be needed in order to finish clinical hours and to prepare for and take the acupuncturist licensing exams determined by the student’s state of residence or intended place of practice.

How To Become an Acupuncturist – Step-by-Step Guide

Here is one possible pathway to becoming an acupuncturist.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Science-Related Field (Four Years)

Acupuncture programs encourage prospective applicants to take courses or major in a science-related field such as biology or chemistry.

Step Two: Earn a Master’s or Doctoral Degree from an ACAOM-accredited Program (Two to Six Years)

A complete list of master’s and doctoral degree programs accredited by ACAOM can be found in the ACAOM online directory of accredited/pre-accredited programs and institutions.

Step Three: Complete Practicum Hours (Timeline Varies)

The majority of acupuncture programs have a minimum number of clinical hours required for program completion, which typically include practices such as diagnosis and treatment, clinical training, communication, and ethics.

Step Four: Consider a Study Abroad Program (Optional, Timeline varies)

To give students an in-depth immersive understanding of Chinese medicine, some institutions offer study abroad options as part of their acupuncture programs. Students can learn from traditional Chinese medicine professionals in China or another Asian country and may be able to apply their study abroad experience towards their required clinical hours.

Step Five: Pass licensing exams (Timeline Varies)

Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so it is imperative to research the local requirements for acupuncture licensure. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides licensure exams for 45 states and outlines a step-by-step examination process to apply for licensure.

What Do Acupuncturists Do?

Acupuncturists are primarily responsible for using ancient Oriental medicine techniques to treat pain and help people feel better. An expansive list of the professional responsibilities of an acupuncturist includes:

  • Listening to patients describe their symptoms
  • Collecting medical information from patients
  • Treating patients using a combination of fine needles inserted along specific energy meridians
  • Applying electricity, heat, and pressure to the areas of discomfort
  • Following policies and procedures related to healthcare practices
  • Recording patient medical history
  • Prescribing further treatments in Western or Eastern medicine
  • Evaluating patient outcomes
  • Educating patients on routine home-based care

Depending on how staffed a work environment is, acupuncturists working in clinics or private practices may need the following business and communication skills to effectively interact with patients be an effective healthcare provider:

  • Business operations management (e.g., scheduling, regulations, supply ordering, marketing)
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

Acupuncturists Certifications & Licensure

National board examinations for acupuncturists are given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), and 45 states and the District of Columbia require this exam for licensure. Even if a state does not require the NCCAOM exam, acupuncturists are still eligible to take it if they meet certain requirements, which are as follows:

  1. Submit an online application (valid for four years)
  2. Submit the final graduation transcript
  3. Submit a clean needle technique certificate
  4. Receive authorization to test letter (ATTL)
  5. Take all required board examinations

How Much Do Acupuncturists Make?

Master’s and doctoral degree-holders in acupuncture and Oriental medicine make up the majority of licensed acupuncturists. According to national statistics, the average annual salary of an acupuncturist in the United States ranges from $53,613 ( 2019) to $73,960 (Career One Stop 2019). Those who are just getting started in the profession can expect to make around $40,910, while the salaries of top seasoned professionals can soar up to $141,330 (Career One Stop 2019).

National salary data is influenced by several factors, including education, certification and licensure, professional experience, and location.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).

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